FREAK Shots: Who Are You Calling Third-World?

Blog reader Nick Turner sent along this photo of a Body Shop ad in San Francisco:


He was surprised that the ad guarantees fair-labor conditions for workers in Italy:

I thought fair-trade protections were for third-world workers. I
wonder how the Italians feel about this designation.

The ad didn’t outright call Italy third-world; but if it had, the country would likely have taken offense — as have other countries, states, and even cities:

Australian cricket player Mathew Hayden angered India’s Board of Control for Cricket when he called India “third-world.”

A travel agency’s “Third-World Tour” of Appalachia upset the region’s tourism directors.

And Rep. Tom Tancredo incited anger when he called Miami a “third-world country.”

Cultural anthropologist Philip Herbst calls the term a “catchall” that risks stigmatizing certain geographic areas. still lists it as a synonym for the less-loaded term “developing nation,” but the Urban Dictionary’s reader-generated definitions are outright derogatory.

Has “third-world” turned into an insult or can it still be politically correct?


You don't see too many people in the fields of cultural anthropology (or really any anthropology), global history, and a great number of other fields being comfortable with the term. It's a loaded term that's filled with Western, industrial-capitalist bias.


unfortunately, Mr. Turner is naive- fair labor conditions are for everyone- it's only globalization propaganda that says that we don't need unions in the 'first world' because our corporations are kinder and gentler- even doctors are starting to unionize, so the pc point is moot


Considering that it was used to differentiate from the 1st world (western democracies) and the 2nd world (the sino-soviet communist regimes), it doesn't really make much sense now does it? How much does in common does Mexico or Brazil have in common with Angola or the DRC, if they ever had anything in common?


No matter what it's a silly anachronism. The Second World (USSR) went dodo a long time ago. Even if you extend Second World to all communist countries, you only have North Korea (sorry, China, Cuba, and Vietnam are far from communist these days).

It's too much a sliding scale these days. India and Brazil cannot any longer be clumped in with Afghanistan and Haiti. Ditch it.


Agree with Grant. In addition, the term is no longer correct insofar as its original meaning was geopolitical, not economic - the First World was the capitalist West, the Second World the Soviet Bloc, and the Third World the unaffiliated countries in the rest of the world. With the collapse of communism almost everywhere, the geopolitical meanings have evaporated, leaving the term too blunt by far.

Most academics use the terms "developed world" and "developing world."


Well, it's certainly out of date. Can anyone remember what the second world was? Basically the Warsaw pact, USSR, and Communist China. The third world was as much a policital designation, the non-aligned states, which were mostly poor. It's usage changed to a strictly economic designation.

Even as an economic designation it is out of date. China and India are poor, but not nearly as poor as a generation ago, or two generations ago when 3rd world was first used. The world now consists of a rich billion, a developing 4 billion or so with mostly strong growth and improving prospects, and a billion or so who are both the poorest and who aren't growing (much of Africa, some of the 'stans, some in SE Asia). I don't know exactly what 3rd world even refers to anymore.


It is worth pointing out that Indian Cricketers got their revenge- their national team just beat the Aussie team.


How different is reaction to the term "third world" from that of people displaced by hurricane Katrina to the word "refugee"?


The issue was not so much with Matthew Hayden calling India a "third world country", but with him using that as an excuse for the big defeat they have recently had in India. Hayden plays in one of the Indian leagues and makes millions, yet only thought of the "third world" when the Australian team lost.

right side of the river

Re: Tucker, Hayden made the comment after returning home, not before playing India. It's more a case of him being a sore loser. Revenge would be after the fact.


Even "developed world" and "developing world" betray an extreme cultural bias, as if the only natural progression for any area/nation is to eventually become like the U.S., Europe, or Russia, the non-"Third world" standards.

The underlying problem is that any designation which lumps the majority of the world's countries into a single category, in opposition to the few powerful/wealthy ones doing the naming, creates a biased term. These nations are far more different from each other than they are alike - their apparent similarities are the result of the distorted viewpoint of the namers.


I wonder if the fair trade designation is used to distinguish between work done by legal immigrant/native Italians and undocumented workers.


I don't have a point to make about the third-world, but I understood the advertisement to refer to the immigrants ( Armenian, I think?) that labor in the fields in Italy. I don't know really what "Community Trade" is, but Nick Turner seems to have a perception about everyone living and working Italy that a lot of people outside the US have about everyone living in the US - that we all drive big cars and live in big houses and that no one is being taken advantage of.

Also, nowhere in the ad did it call Italy a third-world country.


At my university many professors who study the "development" (yes, a loaded word) of other countries use the term "global South" to describe countries not like a similar term, "the West." Of course, this isn't exactly geographically precise because not all developing nations are South of the West... etc. but it's true that many countries south of the U.S. or western Europe. are "less-developed." Is "global South" the new "developing"? Not sure.

And we never, ever use "Third-World." Totally demeaning and inaccurate.


Today world doesn't exist a Third World. However, the word derived from the Western domination of 16th century and still has a big impact on our bias. Blame it on history education that fill us with these poisoning words. We tend to think it as the word implying undeveloped and newly discovered or unpopular place or nation. Yet, somehow it is true but also an insult to an object.


I prefer "backward" to third-world. I like to call the West the "civilized" world. Go to a university, agree with what a left-wing professor says, but use this terminology. The look on everyone's face is priceless.

Victor Prometeo L. Frankenstein

I do not think Italians have to be ashamed of being called people that belong to a third-world country.
Concealed/sweated labour in Italy is more common than Your reader might think; even the number of workers that each day die due to the lack of the safety measures is just as good as the one in a poor country. Only in 2007, over 1250 persons were killed due to fatal accidents (highest number in Europe).
…and what should we say about what happened at the ThyssenKrupp in Turin (TORINO – IT)?
Maybe workers in Italy have had fair-labour conditions guaranteed, I'm sure of it, but I'm also sure as Hell that that balm/liqueur it tastes a little bit of blood too (made in Italy blood).


V. P. L. F.


A) we are definitely the first world as to what concerns football/soccer (sorry, we're still the world champions).

You see, "third world" has always had a negative connotation. At present days, it should rightly be considered just as a bad word. As a proper economic cathegory, it is definitely not used anymore by serious economists, reviews, etc. Also because all too often cardinality comes side by side with judgement.

Regarding the Body Shop case: I read info on and I couldn't notice any hint to developing/third world issues. What Community Trade is all about is about importing products from the places where they naturally grow. Bergamots are typical Italian products (Sicilian to be precise), so if you import Italian bergamots you are more likely to get the very good ones. So why has the third world issue been raised up?



Hmm... 'Third-world', that's like being called 'retarded' or 'crippled' over 'handicapped', actually t that would be more 'handicapped' over 'challenged'.
As for 'Community Trade' is a feel good way for bleeding hearts to feel ok about purchasing products from overseas.
Think 'Carbon Offest' it makes those same bleeding hearts feel better for driving that mamoth SUV.
P.S. these are same people that also buy a Soy-latte from Starbucks, whom does the same 'Community Trade' to provide you with the best coffee. (granted it is really good coffee)
P.S.S. Maybe to be completely PC, let's call them...'Industrially Challenged' or 'Developlly Challenged' or ' Nostagically Enhanced'


Who says that insults AREN'T politically correct?